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Copyright as Intellectual Property Privilege
Syracuse Law Review (2007)
  • Tom W. Bell

We often call copyright a species of intellectual property, abbreviating it, "IP." This brief paper suggests that we consider copyright as another sort of IP: an intellectual privilege. Though copyright doubtless has some property-like attributes, it more closely resembles a special statutory benefit than it does a right, general in nature and grounded in common law, deserving the title of property. To call copyright a privilege accurately reflects legal and popular usage, past and present. It moreover offers salutary policy results, protecting property's good name and rebalancing the public choice pressures that drive copyright policy. We face a choice between two ways of thinking about, and talking about, copyright: As an intellectual property that authors and their assigns own, or as an intellectual privilege that they merely hold. Perhaps no label can fully capture the unique and protean nature of copyright. Recognizing it as form of intellectual privilege would, however, help to keep copyright within its proper legal limits.

  • copyright,
  • property theory,
  • privilege theory
Publication Date
Citation Information
Tom W. Bell, Copyright as Intellectual Property Privilege, 58 Syracuse L. Rev. 523 (2007). Available at: